Bridging Epistemologies
(Cook Brown)

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The generative dance towards knowledge creation that bridges the epistemologies of possession and action. Explanation of Bridging Epistemologies of Cook and Brown. ('99)

Contributed by: Tom de Geytere


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Cook Brown Bridging Epistemologies model

What is the Bridging Epistemologies framework? Description

S.D.N. Cook and J.S. Brown argue that much current work on organizational knowledge, intellectual capital, knowledge-creating organizations, knowledge work and the like is based on a single, traditional understanding of the nature of knowledge. In this "epistemology of possession," knowledge is treated like something which people possess. Yet, this vision can not account for the knowing which is found in individual and group practice.

Knowing as action calls for an "epistemology of practice." Moreover, the epistemology of possession tends to privilege explicit over tacit knowledge. Also it tends to privilege individual knowledge over group knowledge.

Current work on organizations is limited by this privileging, and by the scant attention given to knowing. Organizations are better understood if explicit, tacit, individual and group knowledge are treated as four distinct and coequal forms of knowledge. Each is doing work the others can't. Knowledge and knowing should be seen like mutually enabling; not like competing.

Actions by collectives cannot be reduced to only the actions of individuals within them. Cook and Brown identify 4 types of knowledge: explicit and tacit at the individual and collective levels, and consider how they are bridged by the active process of knowing (OUBS,2001). The process by which different knowledge types are used in practice is described as a "generative dance". According to this metaphor, knowledge creation does not simply rely on an inventory of knowledge elements (possession), but on the ability to use those as tools (action).

Cook and Brown hold that knowledge is a tool of knowing, that knowing is an aspect of our interaction with the social and physical world, and that the interplay of knowledge and knowing can generate new knowledge and new ways of knowing.

Origin of the Bridging Epistemologies model. History

The model from Cook and Brown developed from:

  • Polanyi's distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge (1983). Tacit knowledge is what is not easily visible and expressible. Tacit knowledge is personal, context specific and hard to formalize and communicate. Subjective insights, intuitions and hunches fall in this category, which includes cognitive and technical elements. Explicit knowledge can be expressed in words and numbers and can be easily communicated and shared in the form of hard data, scientific formulae, codified procedures and universal principles. (Nonaka and Takeuchi).
  • Spender's epistemological pluralism (1998): (1) objective knowledge is only one way of knowing things, and (2) some aspects of explicit and tacit knowledge are only known collectively (see also Blackler, 1995).

It adds a dynamic element of knowledge and opposes the traditional knowledge-as-assets or resource view of knowledge. This model resembles the view of Nonaka and Takeuchi in their SECI model, which sees knowledge creation as a transformation of the various knowledge elements.

Usage of the Bridging Epistemologies framework. Applications

The framework Cook and Brown helps to think of knowledge in an organizational context and understanding why and how we know things collectively. Their model strengthens the link between product and process innovation. In their view, forms of knowledge distributed among individuals and groups are not the only essential for product development; ways of "knowing" reflected in the interaction of the workers with each other and their objects of work are also essential (OUBS,2001).

An example of the Bridging Epistemologies model

The model is illustrated using the simple example of a bakery: Relevant tools are:

  • Knowledge as concepts. Theory known by individuals, like which flour to use, how much salt to use etc.
  • Skills. The ability to make bread
  • Stories. How things were built up
  • Genre. The context of the bakery

An apprentice can learn or be part of all these elements, he or she will need experience in order to make bread: knowledge as action.

Assumptions of the Bridging Epistemologies model. Conditions

  • Knowledge can not be transformed from its various forms (individual/tacit etc.), but exist in distinct forms.

Article: Cook and Brown - Bridging Epistemologies.

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